The Middle Ground
VANCOUVER ISLAND) Although as a journalist I have done my share of reporting news, it’s fair to say that most of my contribution has been analysis and, to a slightly lesser extent, opinion. As an opinion writer I don’t have a duty to be objective; on the contrary, I’d argue that I have an obligation to take sides on the issues I discuss. However, as I’ve argued elsewhere, even when we’re dealing with hard news, I don’t believe that there can be any reporting that is entirely objective; the best we can expect is that the reporter be honest about any bias that exists. But objectivity should be something we in the media should strive for.
One can have an opinion and still be objective. For instance, if someone asks a man whose child has just been murdered for his opinion on capital punishment, you may well get a strong opinion in favour of the death penalty. We wouldn’t call that an objective opinion. But if we were to ask someone who had no personal investment in the issue the same question, we would get an opinion, perhaps pro, perhaps con, but the opinion would be more objective. It is difficult to be free from bias, but an attempt to be entirely bias free does not mean that both sides in a dispute have equal merit. When reporting or analysing a news story, we must not fall into the trap of reporting it as though both sides are necessarily equally valid or likely to be right. The middle ground, as any practitioner of informal logic can tell you, is not always the right way to go.
It is incumbent upon reporters of the news to make some distinction between a rational position on a subject and one that is patently absurd. If a reporter attends an astronomy symposium, for example, he wouldn’t be expected to give equal time to the various scientists who discuss their field and to some nutjob who shows up insisting that the earth is flat. We wouldn’t expect the reporter to “report the controversy”. There is none. Nevertheless, there are those who insist on equal time and equal consideration for pseudo-scientific views that are every bit as much scientific outliers as is the flat earth proposition.
There is no scientific controversy over evolution. Evolution is as much a fact as it is possible to be within the strictures of science. Neither creationism nor its better dressed cousin “intelligent design” is a scientific theory; they don’t even qualify as hypotheses. Within the scientific community there is no controversy, there is no dispute. There is some discussion as to the specific mechanisms and how they work within the evolutionary framework, but there is none whatsoever about the fact of evolution itself. There is no reason at all to teach bible stories as alternative science.
Equally non-controversial is the question of anthropogenic climate change. The climate is changing and that change is caused by human action. The only people who disagree with that scientific proposition are people who have somehow been persuaded that the question is a political one rather than a scientific one. Because the oil lobby is so firmly up the collective political right wing’s ass, a controversy denying the palpable, observable, measurable effect of the burning of hydrocarbons in our atmosphere has been ginned up. The controversy doesn’t exist in the real world; it only exists in the echo chamber of the right wing and in the fevered imaginations of people who believe that any uncomfortable scientific fact is a conspiracy dreamt up by the liberal intellectual elite. Like it or not, folks, global warming is real and it is caused by us.
Why the press is so inclined to give equal time to people who spout the kind of paranoid nonsense that we would walk away from if it was expressed where it belongs – shouted from a soapbox in a park – is probably a result of the quixotic effort to be even-handed in covering an issue. The problem, though, as stated earlier, is that the ridiculous is not entitled to equal time. It deserves mention perhaps, but only for what it is. And it is, in the most technical sense, dumbfuckery.
It’s time we in the media call bullshit, when bullshit is being sold as science. The fact that it is religion trying to pretend to be science doesn’t give it immunity from being called out. Bullshit is bullshit and whether it wears a bishop’s mitre, a yarmulke, or a Klan hood, it’s still bullshit and should be reported as such.